Comparing unprecedented Trump White House turnover with Bush, Obama
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs a State Department news conference after being fired by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2018. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs a State Department news conference after being fired by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2018.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs a State Department news conference after being fired by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2018.

Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias March 15, 2018

High turnover has become synonymous with President Donald Trump’s White House.

Hope Hicks is on her way out as director of communications. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn and staff secretary Rob Porter resigned. Rex Tillerson was ousted as secretary of state (replaced with CIA director Mike Pompeo).

"The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House," Trump tweeted. "Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!"

Whether chaos or great energy, the turnover in Trump’s White House is certainly unprecedented.

By his 365th day as president, 34 percent of Trump’s most senior staffers had quit, switched roles or were forced out, according to a study by the Brookings Institution’s Katie Dunn Tenpas that tracked staffers with the help of a list compiled by National Journal. That statistic has now climbed to 43 percent.

That’s more than double every other administration since 1981, when National Journal began the list.

Dunn Tenpas found that Barack Obama had lost 9 percent of his most senior staffers by the end of his first year and George W. Bush 6 percent. Ronald Reagan set the previous record at 17 percent.

Turnover in each position only counts once, which means that positions like the White House communications director, which has been filled by four people so far only counts once. (Sean Spicer filled the role on two separate occasions.)

We previously looked at the shortest tenures for the most high-profile Trump staffers. We’re now revisiting those numbers and comparing the number of people who filled each position in the three most recent administrations.

The speed of Trump’s hires and fires was surprising but not unprecedented, whereas the number of role changes shatters records.

 

 

Chief of staff

Communications director

Press secretary

National Security Adviser

FBI director

CIA director


 

Trump

2

5*

2

3*

3*

3

Obama

1

2*

1

1

1

2

Bush

1

2

1

1

3*

1

 

* Includes one acting director

Chief of staff

Reince Priebus was the shortest-serving chief of staff in history. He served for 189 days, while the second-shortest stint (Kenneth Duberstein under Ronald Reagan) lasted 203 days.

Since then, John Kelly has stayed put.

Obama’s first chief of staff left after 619 days to run for Chicago mayor, and Bush’s lasted more than five years.

Communications director

The communications director position has seen the greatest volatility in the Trump White House.

Spicer was Trump’s first communications director, followed by Republican operative Michael Dubke. Spicer took back his responsibilities for 53 days until Anthony Scaramucci came along.

The Mooch lasted 10 days as communications director, almost beating out Jack Koehler for shortest tenure. Koehler worked in the Reagan administration and stepped down after a week on the job, when news broke that he once belonged to a Nazi youth group.

Hicks, a key campaign aide who became known as a loyal West Wing staple, filled the position the longest. But Hicks resigned on Feb. 28, 2018, the day after she testified before the House Intelligence Committee, where she admitted she had occasionally told white lies for Trump.

Press secretary

Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, lasted 182 days. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his successor, has held her spot since July 21, 2017.

Bush’s first press secretary, Ari Fleischer, lasted more than two and a half years. Obama’s Robert Gibbs worked in the role just over two years.

National Security Adviser

Michael Flynn set a record for shortest tenure as national security adviser, a position established in 1953 amid the Cold War.

Flynn was on the job for 24 days before he resigned; the average is 2.6 years, according to the Washington Post. Flynn acknowledged in his resignation that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about illegal conversations with a Russian official.

Keith Kellogg took over his spot in an acting position, and was replaced by H.R. McMaster.

Condoleezza Rice lasted four years as Bush’s first national security adviser, and James Jones lasted two years and eight months under Obama.

FBI director

Trump’s White House also saw significant turnover in the role of FBI director, a relatively stable position.

Former FBI director James Comey, who lasted three years and eight months, is the second FBI director ever to be fired. The last and only other time this happened was when Bill Clinton fired William Sessions after he refused to step down amid ethical concerns in 1993.

Andrew McCabe took over Comey’s role for the summer in an acting position. Christopher Wray is the new FBI director.

Bush also went through three directors, though. Louis Freeh was FBI director when Bush came into office, nominated by Clinton in 1993. When he retired, Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed Thomas J. Pickard to fill the spot in an acting position. Bush then nominated Robert Mueller on Sept. 4, 2001.

Clarification, April 6, 2018: This story has been updated to clarify the methodology of the Brookings Institution study and the National Journal compilation.

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Our Sources

PolitiFact, How does Trump White House turnover compare to Bush, Obama?, Aug. 4, 2017

Brookings.edu, Why is Trump’s staff turnover higher than the 5 most recent presidents?, Jan. 19, 2018

Email interview with Katie Dunn Tenpas,  senior fellow with Governance Studies at Brookings, March 14, 2018

The New York Times, Hope Hicks to Leave Post as White House Communications Director, Feb. 28, 2018

Axios, FBI director threatened to resign amid Trump, Sessions pressure, Jan. 23, 2018

FBI.gov, Directors, Then and Now, accessed March 14, 2018

Donald J. Trump, Tweet, March 13, 2018

State.gov, Former Secretaries of State, accessed March 14, 2018

Politico, Trump White House Staff List, Jan. 25, 2017

The Wall Street Journal, Hope Hicks Named Permanent White House Communications Director, Sept. 12, 2017

Bloomberg, Trump Names Sifakis as Public Liaison, Passing Over Scaramucci, March 6, 2017

Donald J. Trump, Tweet, March 6, 2018

The Washington Post, Trump set a record for White House staff turnover in the first year, Jan. 16, 2018

The Washington Post, Rex Tillerson is latest casualty in Trump’s record-breaking turnover, March 8, 2918

The Hill, Fox's Ingraham rejects characterization of White House turnover as chaos: 'That's called smart staffing', March 14, 2018

Georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov, Statement by the Press Secretary, Feb. 22, 2001

The Washington Post, James Jones to step down as national security adviser, Oct. 8, 2010

Britannica.com, List of Central Intelligence Agency directors, accessed March 14, 2018

FBI.gov, Louis J. Freeh, accessed March 14, 2018

Fortune, Louis Freeh, private eye, July 25, 2013

Vox, Forcing out unwanted FBI directors: a brief, messy history, May 24, 2017

FBI.gov, Robert S. Mueller III,  accessed March 14, 2018

FBI.gov, Thomas J Pickard,  accessed March 14, 2018

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Comparing unprecedented Trump White House turnover with Bush, Obama